The identification of environmental factors that lead to loss of tolerance has been coined the holy grail of autoimmunity. Our work has focused on the reactivity of antimitochondrial autoantibodies (AMA) to chemical xenobiotics and has hypothesized that a modified peptide within PDC-E2, the major mitochondrial autoantigen, will have been immunologically recognized at the time of loss of tolerance. Herein, we successfully applied intein technology to construct a PDC-E2 protein fragment containing amino acid residues 177-314 of PDC-E2 by joining a recombinant peptide spanning residues 177-252 (PDC-228) with a 62-residue synthetic peptide from 253 to 314 (PP), which encompasses PDC-E2 inner lipoyl domain (ILD). We named this intein-constructed fragment PPL. Importantly, PPL, as well as lipoic acid conjugated PPL (LA-PPL) and xenobiotic 2-octynoic acid conjugated PPL (2OA-PPL), are recognized by AMA. Of great importance, AMA has specificity for the 2OA-modified PDC-E2 ILD peptide backbone distinct from antibodies that react with native lipoylated PDC-E2 peptide. Interestingly, this unique AMA subfraction is of the immunoglobulin M isotype and more dominant in early-stage primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), suggesting that exposure to 2OA-PPL-like compounds occurs early in the generation of AMA. To understand the structural basis of this differential recognition, we analyzed PPL, LA-PPL, and 2OA-PPL using electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy, with confirmations by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, immunoblotting, and affinity antibody analysis. We demonstrate that the conformation of PDC-E2 ILD is altered when conjugated with 2OA, compared to conjugation with lipoic acid. Conclusion: A molecular understanding of the conformation of xenobiotic-modified PDC-E2 is critical for understanding xenobiotic modification and loss of tolerance in PBC with widespread implications for a role of environmental chemicals in the induction of autoimmunity.
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